Autodesk BIM conference 2012

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Autodesk’s annual BIM conference is one of the more intense sessions covering the adoption of Building Information Modelling in the UK. This year proved no exception.

I have lost count of the number of Building Information Modelling (BIM) conferences put on last year. It seemed as if there was at least one every week, sometimes more. As the UK lurches towards mandatory BIM on public sector projects from 2016, one can almost smell the industry’s fear. I worry that for many BIM has become a Nirvana — you feel compelled to get there but have no idea how to do so.

This sentiment has been echoed by some of those that have led the charge. Chief Construction Advisor to the UK government, Paul Morell, pictured, who retired shortly after the Autodesk BIM conference, often said that the government’s BIM crusade was not unlike President JF Kennedy’s decision to go to the moon: it is just we do not yet know quite how to get there.

Thus the industry regularly gathers at these events to hopefully hear some nuggets of information to illuminate that path. At Autodesk BIM 2012 there were plenty of experts on hand to answer questions, even if the answers did not make the path to successful BIM adoption any easier.

World No.1?

The UK government’s push for BIM in construction has driven awareness but there are only a few public sector projects in the pipeline, mainly with the Ministry of Justice on prison design. None have been delivered and the process is still being hammered out.

There was a lot of talk about ‘BIM level 2’, when most in the audience did not know what ‘BIM level 1’ was. Yet Autodesk is hailing the UK as the ‘no. 1’ country for BIM. I just don’t buy that. The UK has great awareness of BIM, but in skill use and delivery there is still a huge requirement for investment, education, training and deployment to make this a reality.

The UK government has chosen Construction Operations Building Information Exchange (COBie ) as its BIM delivery component. This is not geometry but a data schema, often presented in a spreadsheet. The idea being that anyone in a government department can access and find project data without special training or CAD. While I understand this, a COBie drop can be hundreds of thousands of fields in a monolithic spreadsheet that is impossible to decipher.


The knowledge of COBie and its quirks are still highly rare. Read this month’s reviews of Solibri (page 16) and 4Projects (page 20) to see how much post-processing work needs to be done for COBie data drops. There is still much to learn and define.


The breakout sessions are where the real meat is available. The star of the show was Laura Handler, director of virtual design and construction, at Tocci Building Companies. Her Q&A sessions were frank and to the point on process, measures, people and identifying pilot projects. I am pretty sure that attendees got the biggest dose of reality from her ‘take no prisoner’ stance.

There was a hardening of messages coming from experienced users of BIM. Employees that were resistant to change were described as “cancers” to BIM adoption in some sessions. The speakers felt that employees must be given chances to participate in BIM adoption — but that it is rarely worth the effort with people that need coercing to change. The CAD manager next to me said, based on that advice, he would have to sack 90% of the firm.


The main message that stuck out this year was ‘get the right people’. Mapping companies today to how they need to be for successful BIM requires everyone to change the way they think about the design process. It is not a migration from AutoCAD 2D drawings to Revit 3D models. Any company that approaches the transition with that mindset will undoubtedly fail.

There will be people, even senior people, in a firm that will resist and inhibit progress. Change and transition is never easy but time needs to be spent getting everyone onboard and pushing in the same direction.

This is not something that a software vendor, not even Autodesk, can help with.


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